Engaging contractors: Do you know your councilís safety obligations? - A Victorian case study

A Victorian case study

Outsourcing work to subcontractors does not mean you are absolved of your workplace health and safety obligations. WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director, John Merritt, said some employers had the impression that they were not responsible for people who were not employees.

While health and safety legislation varies between States, the underlying rule is that all employers are required to look after the safety of employees and people other than employees where they are affected by your business or its operations.

“This covers contractors, labour hire workers, people on Section 457 visas and members of the public,” John Merritt said.

“Safety responsibilities cannot be outsourced.”

John Merritt said organisations should consult on their needs with contractors or labour providers and ensure they are capable of providing what is required as far as safety is concerned.

“Put simply, the employers of outsourced workers need to ensure the people they are placing have the right skills and training for the job and that the place they are working at has appropriate health and safety systems in place,” he said.

“Host employers must ensure people working on their behalf have a plan for safe work to be carried out, safe equipment, and the skills and supervision to ensure safety practices are applied.

“In any business, having a commitment to safety is only part of the story. It has to be applied consistently across the organisation and down through the people working for it and their contractors.”

Case study

A Victorian Council was recently prosecuted by WorkSafe in the County Court for failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace.

The Council pleaded not guilty, but a jury found it had breached Section 21(1) and (2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. That section requires employers, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide and maintain a working environment, plant or systems of work, that is safe and without risks to health.

WorkSafe investigated the Council’s contractor commissioning procedures after a 2005 incident in which a grader driver employed by a contractor died after crashing his machine while doing road works.

The grader driver’s employer was prosecuted by WorkSafe in 2007 when it pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace.

WorkSafe’s investigation found a number of serious mechanical faults with the company’s grader. It also found that although the Council had procedures in place for managing contractors, these had not been applied in this case.

The County Court was told a council officer contacted the approved contractor in December 2005 to grade a narrow and windy three kilometre section of road with steep dropoffs, overhanging limbs on trees, and other vehicles.

WorkSafe’s investigation found:

The Council was placed on a two year health and safety undertaking – similar to a good behaviour bond – and ordered to conduct two safety audits at six months after the case and one at 18 months.

The results of these audits are to be provided to WorkSafe within five working days.

WorkSafe has produced a number of publications including ‘Information on engaging a contractor’ and ‘Duties of contractors’.

WorkSafe publications are available online at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au

Information is also available from WorkSafe’s Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.